Back in March, when everything started closing down, I was in shock. It was almost as though my whole body was numb. My mind couldn’t process what was happening, but I managed to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Even though everything else seemed to be falling apart or being stripped away, I made meals. I tried to keep up with my habit of reading before bed. I worked to find ways to make things less stressful and more fun for my kids. I thought I was holding things together pretty well.
The numbness and shock didn’t last for very long. Soon, I was reeling. Simple tasks became a struggle. I wanted to read, but I didn’t have the focus. I tried to plan creatively and think outside the box, but I found it a struggle to even think inside the box. The dishes piled up in my sink. My to-do list went ignored. I would fall into bed every night exhausted, but was unable to think of anything constructive I had accomplished at any point during the day.
Eventually, I found myself buoying up to the surface. I got creative. New ideas were coming fast and furious. We were throwing ourselves into creating online ways for people to connect, for our congregation to worship and be together even when we were apart, and in finding new things to bring us joy. We bought chickens and decided we were going to be homesteaders. I remember thinking to myself, We can do this. We are making it. We are surviving, and we may even start thriving.
And then the six month mark came, and the invisible wall returned. (Check out this Twitter thread for a great description of the wall.) Can you believe we’ve been in this situation for six months now? The wall didn’t just show up in front of me. I think somehow I ran into it at full speed and collapsed in a crumpled heap by the bricks. The feeling of constant dread has threatened to come back. The sense of shock and numbness and hopelessness threatened to steal my joy. I look back at the six months prior and wonder how on earth we’ve made it this far. I look ahead at an uncertain future and wonder how much longer this will all last. I wonder if I will have the grit and fortitude to hang on. I wonder if any of you have experienced these thoughts and feelings, too.
I have spent the past week thinking of all of the things I need to do, but have no energy for doing. I have sat on my couch to do nothing except wonder how long it will be before I am able to break through the invisible wall. In the midst of all of this, I came across an article promising me that this crash against the wall is a precursor to innovation. The article encouraged that soon, I would push through, and I would find myself innovating and creating new things once again.
That should’ve made me feel better, right?
But it didn’t.
Instead, it made me feel like a failure.
Okay, the article didn’t make me feel that way. I did a pretty good job of making myself feel like a failure. This article was a major encouragement to many people. The words ministered to lots of folks and urged many people to hang in there and not give up. But, I read it, and all I could think about was how desperately I needed to get on the other side of the wall to the innovation that was on the horizon.
I have a book deadline and can’t seem to write anything.
I have a messy house and can’t seem to get it under control.
I have Bible studies to plan and classes to teach, but can’t seem to find the creative energy that typically pushes me to see things in new ways.
Six months in and the creativity is gone.
And then I realized why the promise of innovation just over the horizon bothered me so much: it focused on what we do instead of who we are. And, I have no problem over-focusing on that all on my own.
Just two weeks into the shut down, I was confronted with the reality that I had made productivity an idol in my life. Without even realizing it, I had hidden my own self-doubts underneath the laundry list of things I was getting done every day. When I became suddenly unable to do the things that brought me joy and energy, I had to take a hard look at the idols in my life and topple them from their high places.
Even though a part of me desperately longs to return to a sense of normalcy, even though I long for the rush of creativity and innovation once again, I do not need to experience a breakthrough in order to be loved by God. I do not need to return to the breakneck pace of a production-oriented life in order to secure my self-worth.
I have seen all kinds of posts and memes asking what we have learned during this pandemic. If I have learned nothing else, I have learned this: I do not need to learn a new skill, accomplish a new task, find a way to complete everything I used to get done in a day in order to be a successful adult worthy of love. I am beloved simply because God says that I am. I am beloved not because of anything I have done but because God created me, loved me, and called me God’s own.
In John 3, Nicodemus went searching for Jesus. He chose to go at night so that no one would see what he was doing. When he finds Jesus, they have a beautiful conversation about new birth and what it means to be of the Spirit. But, Nicodemus doesn’t get it. When Jesus tells Nicodemus he needs to be born again, Nicodemus responds with but that is impossible to do. Nicodemus, lover of rules, order, and tangible works was frustrated because what God wanted of him was something that couldn’t be done. It wasn’t an item he could cross off of his righteousness list. It was something he would have to receive.
Friend, if you find yourself against the six month wall today, I want you to know that you are beloved right where you are – even if where you are is a crumpled mess on the floor. You may find innovation on the other side of the wall, whether it is tomorrow or in three months. But, even if you never do, you are beloved right in this moment.
May you receive the assurance today that you are not defined by what you do. Your worth is not contingent on that innovation striking like a lightning bolt. This six month wall is temporary, but your belovedness isn’t.